Alphonse Mucha, in about 1906

Alphonse Mucha/ Alfons Maria Mucha

Czech Republic 1860 - 1939

Art Nouveau

Alphonse Mucha
Alfons Maria Mucha
Male
Czech Republic
1860

Establishing the basis of the Art Nouveau style, Alphonse Mucha was famous for his commercial posters with dense patterns that initiate the interest in natural forms and decoration instead of the anonymity of mechanical production. From Vienna and Paris to Chicago where he introduced the American audience with new art, Mucha worked in various mediums, including jewelry, furniture design, and theater scenography. Celebrating femininity, the Femme nouvelle was a favorite subject, used in both allegorical and decorative purposes, glorified as the counterbalance in the masculine world. Besides his commercial work, Mucha was a great patriot, often dedicated to projects of nationalist character, celebrating the history and culture of his country.

Alphonse Mucha - The Arts, Painting (Left) - Maud Adams as Joan of Arc, 1909 (Middle) - Dance, 1898 (Right), Image via wikipediaorg works print page home paintings
Alphonse Mucha – The Arts, Painting (Left) / Maud Adams as Joan of Arc, 1909 (Middle) / Dance, 1898 (Right), Image via wikipedia.org

From Moravia via Vienna to Paris and Back

Mucha was born in 1860, in the town of Ivancice, Moravia, today Czech Republic. As a chorister at the Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Brno, he experienced his first revelation, confronting the richness of baroque art. Since drawing was his favorite preoccupation as long as he remembered, in 1879, he moved to Vienna to work as a stage-set painter for a major theatrical design company. Unfortunately, the business was destroyed in fire, and Mucha was forced to return to Moravia and accept the job of a decorative and portrait painter. Still, the Austrian capital left a great impression on the young artist who particularly admired the work of Hans Makart. Making portraits, he met Count Khuen of Mikulov who hired him to paint murals in Emmahof Castle and was so impressed by Mucha that paid for his formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. During his Munich period, the artist worked as an illustrator for Krokodil magazine, among the others, that helped him to develop distinctive calligraphic style. By 1887 he was in Paris studying at the Academia Julian and Academie Colarossi, where the painters Eduard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard were among the most respected. They introduced the art as something that should be normality of everyday life, forming the basic ideas of future Art Nouveau conception of art in daily life. Mucha earned a living doing a job of illustrator for different magazines and advertisements and shared the studio with Paul Gauguin. Two artists created under the very interesting conditions, assembling the room with music, exotic objects and entertainment, gathering bohemian writers, artists, and musicians. The is one old photograph that shows the scene where Gauguin in his underwear plays the Harmonium, reflecting the positive mood in their studio. Thanks to the various company, it was here that Mucha had a chance to experience the occult with August Strindberg, experimenting with hypnosis with Albert de Rochas and Camille Flammarion.

Mucha worked as decorative and portrait painter

Alphonse Mucha - Zodiac (Left) - Biscuits Lefèvre Utile, 1897 (Right), Images via enwikipediaorg works print page home paintings alphonse mucha poster series museum
Alphonse Mucha – Zodiac (Left) / Biscuits Lefèvre Utile, 1897 (Right), Images via en.wikipedia.org

The Acquaintance With Sarah Bernhardt

His career drastically changed in 1894 on the day before Christmas. According to legend, young Mucha was working for printer Lemercier when Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress of that time, came into their office desperately looking for somebody to design the poster for her new show Gismonda. Since all employees were home for Christmas, Mucha took the opportunity and created his first poster. The diva was so pleased, that she signed a six-year contract with the artist who produced many promotional posters, costumes and stage sets for her and quickly became famous himself. “Le Style Mucha” as people started to call his style, was so popular that collectors stole his posters from billboards. Advertising perfumes, beer, bicycles, biscuits, and cigarettes, he erased the difference between fine and commercial art, merging the consumerism with philosophy by claiming that art must be more than visual pleasing. Under the influences of the Pre-Raphelites, Hans Makart and Japanese graphics, Mucha created innovative and distinctive approach that particularly distinguish his female representations with flowing hair, pastel clothes and haloes of light or flowers that evoke the religious scenes he saw throughout his childhood. His style was dynamic and graceful, emphasizing its elegance with curving lines and Byzantine borders, lettering and frames. During this period, he was also experimenting with a different kind of sculpture and applied arts, associating with the goldsmith Fouquet in whose store he created so-called “Mucha world “, a unique decoration made of statues, stained glass, mosaics, fountains and special lightning.

Working for Sarah Bernhardt, Mucha produced many promotional posters, costumes and stage sets

Alphonse Mucha - Posters of Sarah Bernardt, Image via blogcouleurnaturecom print
Alphonse Mucha – Posters of Sarah Bernardt, Image via blog.couleurnature.com

The Seasons and Art Nouveau Bible

The first, and the most famous series of his decorative panels, The Seasons (1896), became so popular that he produces it in at least two more sets. Although the theme of personification of the seasons was nothing new, Mucha’s female characters incorporated into nature have brought the freshness by showing their moods in accordance with the season they represent. After successful exhibitions in Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Munich, Brussels and London, he was already recognizable as the world’s greatest decorative artist. With the aim of capitalization of his ideas, he published two books – Documents Decoratifs (1902) and Figures Decoratifs (1905), filled with design for jewelry, stained glass, wallpaper, furniture and figures that became the Art Nouveau bible. Mucha’s spiritual side find his expression in his illustrated book Le Pater (1899), decorated with Byzantine, Catholic, and Masonic symbols. It also reflected his belief that art should have a moral and political purpose, considering its ability to spread the message. As a great patriot, he dreamed of creating an epic painting cycle as an illustration of the Slav history that would encourage the Slavic quest for freedom.

Mucha’s female characters show their moods in accordance with the season they represent

Alphonse Mucha - Four Seasons, 1896, Image copyright of Alphonse Mucha Estate-Artists Rights Society
Alphonse Mucha – Four Seasons, 1896, Image copyright of Alphonse Mucha Estate-Artists Rights Society

The Slav Epic

Collecting funds for his monumental intention, Mucha traveled several times to the USA, where, in 1909, finally met Charles Crane who became his financier for the next 20 years. Fully dedicated to his Slav Epic, he occasionally worked on some other projects, but with the same inspiration and message, as the Lord Mayor’s Hall ceiling with an inscription “Though humiliated and tortured you will live again, my country!”. In 1918, when Czechoslovakia finally gained its independence, Mucha started to design nation’s postage stamps, banknotes, and coat of arms. His studio in Zbiroh Castle was overcrowded with his giant canvases whose painting requested extensive research because of which Mucha traveled throughout the Balkans, consulting with historians, ensuring that every detail was depicted precisely which gave international attention to his Pan-Slavic idea. In 1919, he finished the first phase which was a part of traveling exhibition through America, attracting 50 000 visitors per week. The final canvas, No.20, The Apotheosis of the Slavs, was done in 1926, representing the new republic under the peace rainbow, protected by Christ. This large series consisted of 20 paintings in total and he took eighteen years to finish them. In 1928, on the occasion of 10-years anniversary of the Czechoslovakian republic, Mucha donated the Slav Epic to the city of Prague, accepting also to create stained glass window in St. Vitus Cathedral.

The realization of his Pan-Slavic idea was the crown of his art

Alphonse Mucha - The Slav Epic, Slavnost svatovitova na rujane, Image via wikimediaorg
Alphonse Mucha – The Slav Epic, Slavnost svatovitova na rujane, Image via wikimedia.org

The Legacy of Alphonse Mucha

Although the war was all the more certain, he began the triptych The Three Ages – reason, wisdom, and love (1936-38) considering the first two as the extremes that could only be united through wisdom. In preparation for this monumental work, Mucha made numerous sketches of details, but his final touch missed as a result of his failing health. But even the bigger obstacle was the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 when the artist was labeled as a reactionary and interrogated by Gestapo, which is even more undermined his lung infection. Alphonse Mucha died in Prague on July 14, 1939. Despite his today popularity, in the time of his death, his style was considered outdated and his greatest work, Slav Epic was stored for twenty-five years. The communists seen his art as decadent and bourgeois and his son Jiri Mucha devoted his life promoting his father’s artwork and reviving his reputation. During the 60’s, in accordance with the increasing interest in Art Nouveau, Mucha’s style became popular and copied on posters of British bands and for one San Francisco happening in 1966. In spite of his association with Art Nouveau, Mucha rejected the label, insisting that art was eternal.

Featured image: Alphonse Mucha – Artist portrait, 1906, Image via en.wikipedia.org

YearExhibition titleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2015Alphonse Mucha: In Quest Of Beauty Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, NorwichSolo
2015Mucha: Master Artist of Art Nouveau (Selected Works from the Rowe Collection) Pensacola Museum of Art, Pensacola, FLSolo
2015Art Nouveau MKG, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, HamburgGroup
2015Symbolism and decadence Waldemarsudde, StockholmGroup
2015Plakativ. Toulouse-Lautrec Und Das Plakat Um 1900 Sprengel Museum Hannover, HannoverGroup
2015Atelier Mourlot and 20th Century Lithography in Paris Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art,Sakura, ChibaGroup
2015Modern and postwar art, Contemporary art, Photography galerie 5. patro, PragueGroup
2015Modern and postwar art, Contemporary art, Photography Galerie Pecka, PragueGroup
2014Alfons Mucha: The Road to Glory Galéria mesta Bratislavy, BratislavaSolo
2014Alphonse Mucha: An Insight into the Artist Miyagi Museum of Art, SendaiSolo
2014Originalgraphik, Photographie und bibliophile Bücher galerie remixx, GrazGroup
2014Masters of Dreams. Symbolism in the Bohemian Lands 1880-1914 International Cultural Centre, Miedzynarodowe Centrum Kultury, KrakowGroup
2014Sense and Sensuality: Art Nouveau 1890-1914 University of East Anglia, NorwichGroup
2013Alfons Mucha Unknown Sogo Museum of Art, YokohamaSolo
2013Umelecké poklady.Secesia. City Gallery of Bratislava, Galéria mesta Bratislavy, BratislavaGroup
2013Mucha Manga Mystery. Alphonse Muchas wegweisende Grafik Museum Bellerive, ZurichGroup
2013The Angel of the Odd. Dark Romanticism from Goya to Max Ernst Musée d'Orsay, ParisGroup
2012Alfons Mucha National Gallery Prague, Sternberg Palace, PragueSolo
2012Nervous Women: Two centuries of women and their psychiatrists Museum Dr. Guislain, GhentGroup
2012Posters of Paris: Toulouse-Lautrec and His Contemporaries Milwaukee Art Museum,Milwaukee, WIGroup
2012Masters of the Poster: Posters of the Belle Époque from the Collection of Museum of West Bohemia Museum of West Bohemia in Pilsen, PilsenGroup
2011Locus Solus. Impresiones de Raymond Roussel Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía,MadridGroup
2011Turn of the Century Posters from the Krannert Art Museum Collection Figge Art Museum, DavenportGroup
2011Leisure, Pleasure, and the Debut of the Modern French Woman Worcester Art Museum,Worcester, MAGroup
2010Alfons Mucha: Faces GASK, Galerie Stredoceskeho kraje, Kutna HoraSolo
2010Alfons Mucha Pecsi Galeria, PecsSolo
2010In Commemoration of the 150th Memorial Birth “Alphonse Mucha” Iwate Museum of Art,MoriokaSolo
2010Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939). Seducción, modernidad y utopía CaixaForum Lleida, LleidaSolo
2010Turn of the Century Posters: Toulouse-Lautrec and Others Krannert Art Museum, Champaign, ILGroup
2009Alphonse Mucha: Master of the Belle Epoque Moravian Gallery, BrnoSolo
2009Alphonse Mucha Kunsthalle der HypoKulturstiftung, MunichSolo
2009Alphonse Mucha. 1860-1939. Seducción, modernidad y utopía CaixaForum Tarragona ,TarragonaSolo
2009Alfons Mucha Musée Fabre, MontpellierSolo
2009In Praise of Women Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, BudapestSolo
2009Alphonse Mucha Belvedere, ViennaSolo
2009Imperishable Beauty: Art Nouveau Jewelry Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OHGroup
2008Alphonse Mucha CaixaForum Barcelona, BarcelonaSolo
2008Alfons Mucha a jeho doba Museum of West Bohemia in Pilsen, PilsenSolo
2008Alphonse Mucha CaixaForum Madrid, MadridSolo
2008Blake to Kahlo to Warhol: Masterworks from the Harry Ransom Center El Paso Museum of Art (EPMA), El Paso, TXGroup
2008Exoticisms in 20th century Art in Bohemia and Moravia Gallery of Visual Art in Cheb, ChebGroup
2008Gartenträume, Plakatkunst Von Mucha Bis Staeck Museum Haus Ludwig, SaarlouisGroup
2007Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouveau Extraordinaire Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, PASolo
2007Alfons Mucha The Gallery of 20th century Polish Art, WarsawSolo
2007Alphonse Mucha FAAM, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, FukuokaSolo
2007Paris 1900 Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, OKGroup
2007Exoticisms in 20thcentury: Art in Bohemia and Moravia Czech Museum of Fine Arts, PragueGroup
2007Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec und die Stars vom Montmartre Lithografien Galerie der Stadt Wendlingen am Neckar, Wendlingen am NeckarGroup
2007Grund, Mucha, Capek Leopold Museum, ViennaGroup
2007Czech Vision Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2007Symbolizmus v ceskom umení na prelome 19. a 20. storocia East Slovakian Gallery, KosiceGroup
2007Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec und die Stars vom Montmartre Kunsthaus Kaufbeuren, KaufbeurenGroup
2007Summer Exhibition Kamakura Gallery, KanagawaGroup
2007The birth of the modern poster National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACTGroup
2007Gartenträume: Plakatkunst von Mucha bis Staeck Kunstmuseum Dieselkraftwerk Cottbus,CottbusGroup
2006Alphonse Mucha & Art nouveau MAMAC Musée d´Art Moderne et Contemporain, LiègeSolo
2006Alphonse Mucha: In the Heart of Art Nouveau Gl Holtegaard, HolteSolo
2006Alphonse Mucha Turku Art Museum, TurkuSolo
2006Alphonse Mucha: The Spirit of Art Nouveau Amos Anderson Art Museum, HelsinkiSolo
2006Autour de 1900 : un ensemble Art Nouveau: La donation Rispal Musée d´Orsay, ParisGroup
2006Kunst und Dekoration. Der Traum vom Jugendstil Schloss, Augusteum und Prinzenpalais,OldenburgGroup
2006Toulouse-Lautrec and the French Imprint Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, New Brunswick, NJGroup
2006Figures of the Player, the Paradox of the Actor Collection Lambert, AvignonGroup
2005Pariser Leben. Toulouse-Lautrec und die Künstler des Montmartre Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln, CologneGroup
2005Giapponismo Galleria dell'Incisione, BresciaGroup
2005Dans l'atelier Musée d´Orsay, ParisGroup
2004Alphonse Mucha Mucha Museum, PragueSolo
2004Alphonse Mucha: Meester van de Jugendstil Kunsthal Rotterdam, RotterdamSolo
2004Akt v ceskej fotografii 1960 to 2000 Slovak Union of Visual Arts, BratislavaGroup
2004Les murs s'affichent: Affiches de la Belle Epoque Musée d'Ixelles, BrusselsGroup
2004Impression Mourlot: Modern French Lithographic Posters State University of New York, New Paltz, NYGroup
20041904 Art at the Fair Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, MOGroup
2003Alfons Mucha Museum Villa Stuck, MunichSolo
2003Van Gogh and Flowers Sompo Japan Museum of Art, TokyoGroup
2003Paris, Turn of the Century Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CAGroup
2002Mucha es tarsai Kunsthalle Szombathely, SzombathelySolo
2001Ten Centuries of Architecture Prague Castle Riding School, PragueGroup
2000Painting the Century. 101 Portrait Masterpieces 1900-2000 NPG, National Portrait Gallery,LondonGroup
2000Art Nouveau, 1890-1914 The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DCGroup
2000Wings of Glory Galerie Rudolfinum, PragueGroup
2000Dans la rue, Franse affiches uit het Stedelijk Museum De Beyerd, BredaGroup
1999Alphonse Mucha Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MASolo
1999Alphonse Mucha: The Spirit of Art Nouveau North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NCSolo
1999Degas to Picasso: Painters, Sculptors and the Camera San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, SFMOMA, San Francisco, CAGroup
1999Le Passage Du SiÈcle: 1899-1999 Passage de Retz, ParisGroup
1998Alphonse Mucha: The Spirit of Art Nouveau Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FLSolo
1998Dance Hall Days: French posters from Chéret to Toulouse-Lautrec National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACTGroup
1997Alfons Mucha Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales, MontevideoSolo
1996Krajina duse. Ceské vytvarné umenie na prelome 19. a 20. storocia East Slovakian Gallery Kosice, KosiceGroup
1995Alphonse Mucha Tokyu Bunkamura Inc., TokyoSolo
1994Alfons Mucha: das slawische Epos Kunsthalle Krems, KremsSolo
1994Erte and Mucha Grosvenor Gallery, LondonGroup
1992Alfons Mucha International Cultural Centre, Miedzynarodowe Centrum Kultury, KrakowSolo
1989Essence of Art Nouveau: Alfons Mucha Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu, GifuSolo
1986Alphonse Mucha Grosvenor Gallery, LondonSolo
1981Alfons Mucha Malmö Konsthall, MalmöSolo
1977documenta 6 Documenta, KasselGroup
1968Word and Image: Posters and Typography from the Graphic Design Collection of the Museum of Modern Art 1879-1967 MoMA, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NYGroup
1963Alphonse Mucha: Art Noveau Grosvenor Gallery, LondonSolo